The nation’s 100 largest defined benefit pension plans collectively experienced a $30 billion improvement in pension funding this year, according to a new survey.
Milliman, Inc., a Seattle-based consulting and actuarial firm, released this finding from the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which consists of 100 of the nation's largest defined benefit pension plans.
The survey attributes the $30 billion funding improvement to asset performance in January, which reduced the pension funding deficit to $434 billion. The strong month follows a lost year in which interest rates drove the pension funding deficit to historic levels, Milliman says.
“Interest rates actually cooperated this month—or at least they didn't go down," says John Ehrhardt, co-author of the Milliman Pension Funding Study. "The lack of interest rate movement allowed these pensions to take advantage of a 2.49% investment gain for the month and recoup some of the funding loss that characterized 2011.
“With the Fed committing to low rates through the end of 2014, we're going to need more months like this if we are going to fill the pension funding gap," Ehrhardt adds.
In January, the projected benefit obligation (PBO) for these pensions remained static at $1.685 trillion as interest rates moved from 4.25% to 4.26%, the survey says. The strong month for assets left the year-to-date asset value at $1.251 trillion.
Looking forward, if these 100 pensions were to achieve an 8.0% median asset return and if the current discount rate of 4.26% were to be maintained throughout 2012 and 2013, these pensions would narrow the pension funding gap from 74.2% to 79.0% by the end of 2012 and to 84.4% by the end of 2013.
The complete study can be found here.